I’m not the first guy to compile favorite elevator scenes, but I do believe that this particular ranking is my own. I was surprised by just how many significant elevator scenes there have been over the decades, from comedies to action movies. This doesn’t count just any film that happens to have a random elevator in it, but films with elevator scenes that are actually memorable with special props to those with more than one elevator scene. This does only refer to movies, but I’ll give a shout-out to notable elevators in TV as well, such as the Star Trek turbolifts, the anime Death Parade, and that infamous death scene in L.A. Law. I’m also well aware of violent elevator scenes in films like Drive, Cabin in the Woods, and The Departed, but since I haven’t seen those, they don’t count.
It’s time then to elevate my top twelve movie scenes involving elevators.
- You’ve Got Mail (1998)
I’ve never been trapped in an elevator, but this is probably what it would be like. When Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox is stranded with his girlfriend and two others in an elevator, his character has a turning point.
- October Sky (1999)
As I said before, most elevators take you where you want to go, but some do the opposite. When aspiring rocketeer Homer Hickam must take his father’s place in the West Virginia coal mine he’s been dreading, it is an elevator that drags him from the starry beauty above to the oppressive darkness below.
- Aliens (1986)
When the girl you’re trying to rescue is many levels below the flight deck with your one chance of escaping an exploding planet, there’s bound to be an elevator involved. Both Ripley and the Alien Queen make good use of the rising cages, and the tension is palpable. The scene that really gets me, though, is when Ripley and Hicks are waiting for an elevator door to close and an alien leaps from the darkness. Why won’t those doors close faster?!
- The Blues Brothers (1980)
Don’t you just love elevator music? I didn’t think so, but the Blues Brothers make it hilarious as they stoically ascend the floors while all hell is breaking loose outside. SWAT teams yell “Hut, hut, hut” like those “mine” seagulls in Finding Nemo and overkill is an understatement, but all is well within the blissful ignorance of the elevator.
- Inception (2010)/ Paprika (2006)
Inception has two great elevator scenes, the coolest being Arthur’s zero-gravity wake-up call. The first, though, bears enough suspicious similarity to the surreal anime film Paprika that I had to include these two together. Both movies are about dreams, and an elevator serves as a vertical means of navigating various levels of the subconscious.
Two Jedi walk onto an elevator full of droids…. Okay, there’s no punchline, but it is cool. Not only does this scene give Anakin a neat move in the elevator shaft, it confirmed that R2-D2 is the coolest droid. Let’s see BB-8 do that!
- Toy Story 2 (1999)
When Woody is kidnapped, of course he has to be taken to the top of a huge apartment building, and since toys can’t very well ride an elevator like people can, his friends hitch a ride on top. The first elevator scene is funny enough, but later when Zurg shows up, it’s comedy gold as the climax begins.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) / Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
Both of these scenes have something in common: the lone protagonist is crowded in an elevator by bad guys just waiting to ambush him. Cap and John McClane are too formidable to be taken by surprise and gain the upper hand against all odds. McClane’s method is more violent, but Cap also has to worry about getting out of the elevator as more enemies approach.
Both adaptations of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book include the Great Glass Elevator. Gene Wilder’s version of the button-filled box serves as the film’s finale, while the Johnny Depp version utilizes the elevator a little more. I’d love to ride in both of them. I wonder how it would have turned out if Dahl’s sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator could have been filmed to make the elevator the star. Spoiler warning!
- The Towering Inferno (1974)
If disaster movies have taught us anything, it should be to NEVER get in an elevator during a disaster. Of course, when a glass high-rise is going up in flames, people panic and pay for it in the elevator. If that weren’t enough, the stakes are elevated higher (pun intended) when another elevator on the outside of the building dangles precariously. Its rescue is the highlight of the film.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
James Cameron knew how to employ elevators. Instead of an Alien Queen, this time there’s a liquid metal cyborg on the loose, who’s not about to let an elevator door or roof stop him from completing his assassination mission. The effects and action are both scary and impressive.
- Speed (1994)
No film captures the terror of an elevator’s worst case scenario like Speed. Before we even get to Sandra Bullock and the runaway bus, Keanu Reeves and his SWAT team must rescue an elevator’s passengers from a bomber (Dennis Hopper). When the elevator hangs from an unstable crane, the rescue keeps you literally on the edge of your seat, and the confrontation with the bomber just happens to take place on an elevator too. It’s a shame I couldn’t find a video for the scene, but trust me, not many elevator scenes can compare with this one.
Being There (1979) – “That was a very small room.”
Die Hard (1988) – “Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.”
Earthquake (1974) – The first hint of a problem in this disaster flick involves a flooded elevator, and later more panickers prove why an elevator is a death trap in an earthquake.
Ghost (1990) – I like the little scene where Patrick Swayze and Tony Goldwin prank everyone in the crowded elevator.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) – When gremlins take control of your elevator, be afraid.
The Hunger Games (2012) and Catching Fire (2013) – The tributes are elevated into the arena as suspense builds. Plus, there’s that awkward stripping scene with Johanna in the elevator.
Kate and Leopold (2001) – Apparently if the inventor of the elevator never invented elevators, elevators would still exist but wouldn’t work? Yeah, time travel.
My Favorite Wife (1940) – A great little moment in this Cary Grant charmer takes place in an elevator when Grant sees his presumably dead wife alive again. (See the picture at the top.)
National Treasure (2004) – Not only does Nicholas Cage abscond with the Declaration of Independence in an elevator, but he uses an eighteenth-century equivalent to descend to the treasure.
Oh, God! (1977) – If you rise past the top floor, you may be on your way to talk to God.
Outland (1981) – Have you ever wondered what would happen if a spacesuit decompressed in an elevator? It ain’t pretty.
Panic Room (2002) – It’s more of a dumbwaiter, but Jodie Foster uses her mini-elevator to outsmart the home invaders.
Scrooged (1988) – Bill Murray’s reaction to the Ghost of Christmas Future is priceless.
The Shining (1980) – I didn’t even know that flood of blood was coming out of an elevator until I looked it up.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Further proof that Hannibal Lecter is a sick, twisted genius.
Spider-Man 2 (2004) – So Spider-Man walks into an elevator….
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) – Yeah, it’s a dumbwaiter, but when someone gets inside it, it might as well be an elevator.
Superman II (1980) – When there’s a bomb on the Eiffel Tower’s elevator and Lois Lane is underneath it, Superman will be there!
Super Mario Bros. (1993) – The dancing in the elevator is just one bizarre scene from a bad but strangely memorable movie.
Titanic (1997) – When water floods into an elevator, it’s time to stop going down.
Tower of Terror (1997) – This TV movie based on the Disney World ride was bound to feature some doomed elevators.
True Lies (1994) – A horse and a motorcycle get into two elevators….
The Untouchables (1987) – One of the four Untouchables meets a sad and violent end in an elevator.